ARTICLES BY WACEK KIJEWSKI

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# 9  How the Metric System Was Introduced in Africa

Date: 24/04/2009

I have been lecturing basic sciences in African universities, in time when the countries of Africa have been changing their fps system to SI system. A very interesting and challenging period! It took some years to accomplish the change fully.

Surprisingly, the change was more visible and easier done in business (packaging, volumes, balances), shops and streets (kilometer posts, speed signs, change to a right hand drive) than at a university laboratory. Why did they succeed in relatively smooth way? You may say that if "there is will, there is a way". Although, it is true, the countries were less developed and the changes had not met big resistance. At that time there was no book for students on experimental science, where all quantities were to be measured and the answers expressed in SI units.

By the same token there was no "conversion" fear, so hampering introduction of SI in USA. The problem shifted to mathematical manipulation of power of ten notation, metric quantities, SI prefixes, inter-conversion within the metric system, accuracy, precision and the uncertainties of measurement or calculated quantities. This prompted me to write the book on metric measurements and experimental science.

I believe that one important step of many steps to conduct a successful metrication in the USA is to prepare the science teachers to teach the SI system, at least, in the last years of a high school.

...You may compare learning a new system with a learning of a new language. It seems that it requires constant "conversion". It may, at first, but for a short time. The same quantity may have different names; so many factors, therefore: calculations, re-calculations! This creates a fear! But it is hard way to learn! Just accepting a new language, you steadily forget that messy, tedious (and unnecessary!) way. Without much effort you start using this simple "language". Take example of other nations!

They did it without much effort! I wish that the older generation in the USA did not fear and did
not make objections! "Whatever new comes, it comes with pain".

 
 

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